At first they said, “Eat more fish… it’s brain food.” Then they started to pick which fish we should eat. Some touted the benefits of salmon.
Others began to point out dangers of mercury in certain fish. Finally, they started to pick on tilapia.
However, that’s not necessarily the full truth. While many avoid this inexpensive fish, it isn’t necessarily something they need to do.
Location is everything
Where you get the tilapia is going to be a very major part of whether or not it is good to eat.
Locally sourced tilapia, which has never been frozen, is by far the best option. In fact, some people raise tilapia in their back yards. It isn’t that hard to do.
The problem is that many supermarkets carry tilapia imported from China.
Chances are pretty good that the farming practices used don’t match up to the standards required in other countries.
Chemicals and feces are often found in the water the tilapia live in, making them a little more dangerous. (1)
But is tilapia healthy?
Here it depends on how much you eat, how often you eat it and whether or not you eat plenty of other things high in omega-3 fatty acids.
The problem is that tilapia has far more omega-6 fatty acids, and too much of it can lead to inflammation. (2)
That then leads to problems such as heart disease. (3)
Tilapia is healthy, provided it is balanced. A diet of pure tilapia is as bad as any diet that focuses on only one thing.
However, as far as having a tilapia fillet every once in a while goes, it is definitely a good idea. It is low fat, high protein and full of important vitamins and minerals.
But I heard…
Most of us have heard that tilapia is a fish to be avoided. We’ve heard wrong. There are a lot of foods that should be eaten in moderation.
There are a lot of foods that should be raised a certain way in order for the end product to be healthy and safe. Tilapia is one of them.
Did you know that not all of the fish labeled tilapia is that actual fish? While some of it is, a lot of it is one of many fresh water fish that can be raised in a tank.
Wild tilapia is in Africa; what the rest of us eat is farmed… usually in our countries and sometimes near our cities.
Benefits of tilapia
High protein: While some parts of many countries use a great deal of meat, not all do.
Protein starvation is a real thing. Many dieters fall into that trap. However, tilapia has a lot of protein without LDL cholesterol. (4)
Low fat: The biggest problem with animal protein of any type is fat. The type of fat and how much is in it make a big difference in choosing a healthy diet.
In comparing a fast food hamburger to a piece of grilled tilapia, there is no question which is better for your body.
The inflammation from omega-6 fatty acids is nothing compared from that of grain fed beef.
B-12: This important vitamin is found almost exclusively in animal protein. (5)
There are supplements, but most of them are derived from animal protein. It’s best to get it on the fin, so to speak.
Those who don’t have enough of this vitamin in their systems may face things like weakness, fatigue, nerve problems and worse.
Selenium: Tilapia has seventy eight percent of the RDA of this micronutrient. It helps rid the body of free radicals, it may help prevent certain types of cancer, and may help against heart disease.
One of its more important jobs is possibly preventing mental decline. That is a problem older adults face. A very scary future.
How do I eat tilapia in a healthy way?
Pairing: Tilapia is a mild fish that can be served with other fish and with vegetables that have omega-3 fatty acids. (6)
Wild caught salmon can be stretched further with the addition of some fillets of tilapia. A salad with walnuts and avocado could be another pairing.
There are a lot of other foods that contain omega-3s. Check out which of your favorites has those fatty acids and then add in the tilapia.
Cooking method: The idea behind eating more fish is that we want to lower our rate of fat intake.
It doesn’t serve the purpose to deep fat fry fish, as that adds all kinds of oils and fats into the finished dish. Steaming, boiling, poaching, baking and grilling are the best methods for food preparation that involves heat.
Tilapia is often used in sushi restaurants in the United States. Those in Europe and Asia avoid it unless it is wild caught. If you aren’t sure where the tilapia comes from, cooking it is a good idea.
There is one other way to “cook” tilapia… ceviche. However, the acid may not kill microbes from improperly farmed fish.
Weekly, not daily: Experts recommend eating fish at least two times a week. Some folks only eat fish and seafood, rather than other meats.
However, tilapia is not one to eat every day of the week. Switch of with other fish and seafood. All of it is lower in fat and some lower LDL cholesterol and/or raise HDL.
Ok, there are tilapia health benefits… but it’s so boring!
That’s not necessarily the case. How and what it is cooked in/with make a big deal of difference. As an example, take a look in the spice aisle.
There are a lot of herbs and salt preparations available. Getting some sort of seasoned salt can make a huge difference in flavor. So can seasoned pepper.
If you plan to grill or smoke it, think about wood chips. Different wood provides subtle flavor differences.
It is more noticeable on a smoker, but even a gas grill can use wood chips. For the smoker, hardwoods like maple and fruit chips will last longer than cedar.
Watch the sauces, though: Sure, dump enough ranch dressing on it and it will taste great. However, read the bottle.
It’s got a lot of fat and other stuff you do not want if you are watching fat content. For that matter, it has a lot of excess sodium. Neither of these is ideal.
Soy sauce and other sauces can also be problematic. A wine or broth reduction would work better, especially if you make the broth.
That way you can control what’s in it, including the amount of fat and sodium. I usually make the broth the day before and refrigerate overnight. That way I can skim off any fat.
If asked my favorite way to cook any fish, it would actually be in my air fryer. It has the texture of having been fried without the oils. It can be seasoned the way I like, and then it cooks in minutes.
No heating a grill or lighting the smoker. No messy pans to clean. Just nicely done fish, and it can be served still warm from the air fryer basket
Tilapia health: Yes, tilapia is healthy to eat. Like with any food, care has to be taken to buy the best available.
You can even grow it yourself if you have the space and the inclination. That makes it even less per pound and it allows you to be sure it’s grown in a healthy way.
Is tilapia good for you? Eaten in moderation, tilapia is incredibly good for you. Replace to meals a week with it, cutting out something that might not be as healthy and you will be ahead of the game in the healthy eating category. Just remember to balance it.
Benefits of tilapia: For those on restricted diets or who are older, the protein count is extremely beneficial compared to other meats. It is lean protein and high in vitamin B12. Again, those two groups of people are in need of extra sources of this nutrient.
Tilapia contains many other vitamins and minerals. Natural sources of these are much more available to the human body than those found in supplements. As Hippocrates said, “Our food should be our medicine.” When it comes to this area, tilapia fits the bill.
Here’s the big question. Would I serve it to my family? I have and will. I will take the precautions mentioned above, but even if that makes it a little more expensive, they’ll eat it and I can balance it. In fact, our grandchildren love fish of all kinds. Tilapia is no different.